Tacos al pastor stand in Mexico City. Photo: Markus Pineyro.
If Mexico City, and by extension Mexico, were to have an iconic taco, it would be the taco al pastor. This bantam assembly of marinated pork shaved from a trompo (a vertical rotisserie) on a corn tortilla with pineapple, cilantro, onions and salsa is the object of lust for many taco enthusiasts. Spikes of heat, patches of char, citrus pep here and there: What’s not to like? It’s also considered the most authentic of tacos but it is not the first taco and was not adapted from some ancient Aztec recipe. Rather, the taco al pastor appeared in the capital in the mid-20th century, a product of native and immigrant culinary mash-up. It’s also not the only style of taco with meat from a vertical spit. It’s not even the first such dish in Mexico—several of which, including tacos al pastor, are outlined below.
Four hundred years after the Spanish came ashore on the Mexican mainland, initiating the birth of what would become Mexican food with pork, lard, beef and other comestibles, another group of non-indigenous peoples transformed Mexican food. This mass of people, immigrants from the Middle East, specifically Lebanon and Iran, into the city and state of Puebla, brought with them shawarma, lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie, and their own flatbread, pita. The Mexican adaptation of shawarma popped up in the 1930s at Tacos Árabes Bagdad and Antigua Taqueria La Oriental, but took the form of pork (itself a Spanish import) served on a small pita-like tortilla called pan árabe. Continue reading
Monterrey Café was difficult to find on a rainy Sunday morning en route to Dallas from San Antonio. A friend’s Google Maps iPhone app pegged it on one side of I-35. My search had it on the opposite side. When we did find the restaurant, we what we found was a freestanding building with colorful murals on its exterior. One the façade, a matador toyed with a bull. A front window bore a scratched, sans serif font in pink declaring homemade flour and corn tortillas. While the south wall a man walked alongside an oxen-led cart. The parking lot was full. A welcoming, potentially great roadside shack, if ever there was one.
We entered into a busy dining room with another space to the left. Black slide letter signs with menu items hung above the tables in the front room where we sat. Everything was a little worn. The service was quick, attentive and in twists and turns in English and Spanish. And the breakfast tacos fresh, served on dusty, cushioned flour tortillas. Continue reading
I have a soft spot in my heart (and stomach) for food typical of Monterrey, the capital of border state Nuevo Leon. From the city—the tech center of Mexico and the country’s third largest city—come tacos de trompo and hamburguesas estilo monterrey, as well as cabrito and carne asada. Both of the former dishes are plentiful in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas thanks to a large Monterreyan population. Businesses specializing in them are distinguished by painted representations of trompos (the vertical spits on which pork for tacos de trompos are cooked) and of the Cerro de la Silla, the latter being Monterrey’s geographic landmark. The hamburger is the result of proximity to the United States, a class of cultures that heaps pork, avocado, and whatever else the cook desires, on top of a beef patty. The taco de trompo are related to Mexico City’s iconic antojito, the taco al pastor.
Whereas the pork for tacos al pastor is marinated with some combination of chiles, achiote and sour oranges, the meat for tacos de trompo is seasoned with paprika, giving the meat a smokier, spicier flavor. The tacos can also be greasier. After the taquero slices the meat from the trompo, he places it on corn tortillas that have been warming up on a well-oiled flattop griddle. He then flips the taco meat side down and lets the meat char and adhere to the tortilla before being served. They’re exquisite. Continue reading
Filed under Florida, Reviews
Everything is better with a taco, especially the young but formidable Oak Cliff Film Festival, which calls the Texas Theatre home. Within tortilla-flinging distance (and all over the neighborhood) of the historic movie house are scads of notable taquerias and restaurants. Once again, we offer our recommendations.
Los Torres Taqueria, 1322 W. Clarendon Dr., 214-946-3770
This mom-and-pop shop is something special. It’s the only Dallas restaurant specializing in Sinaloan-style meat preparations, and where you go when you want excellent tacos. The Torres family has never failed when it comes to serving northern Mexican dishes like cinnamon-spiked birria de chivo, luscious cabeza (a mix of beef cheek and tongue) and barbacoa roja estilo Sinaloa, which has pork and beef in every exquisite bite. True to the state of origin, order your tacos in handmade flour tortillas. But if you insist, at least request the handmade corn tortillas.
La Tacoqueta, 2324 W. Clarendon Dr., Ste. 100, 214-943-9991
On a strip of Clarendon dominated by auto shops and faded concrete, cheekily named La Tacoqueta is a sepia, wood and tile haven offering hit-the-spot tacos of carne asada, chicken and al pastor.Alas, there is no spit. The breakfast tacos come with handmade tortillas but others don’t. The service is always on point and the salsa is always fiery.
Fito’s Tacos de Trompo #2, 3113 W. Davis St.
This joint is hard to miss. Just look for the painting of Monterrey’s geographic landmark, the Serro de la Silla mountain, and the restaurant’s name is big red letters. Order the signature menu item, tacos de trompo—the northern Mexican cousin of tacos al pastor seasoned with paprika, not a chile, achiote and citrus adobo, and roasted on the vertical spit called, you guessed it, a trompo. But bring cash. Fito’s doesn’t accept plastic.
U.S. Highway 281 cuts the country in half, running north-south from the border with Canada and International Peace Garden in Manitoba to the Mexican border in Brownsville, Texas. Along the way, it winds through the Texas Hill Country, bypassing Austin. It’s a peaceful road framed by ranchland, cedar and live oak trees and about every quarter mile or less by deer processing businesses. The highway is also dotted with small towns in which barbecue joints and Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants abound. El Agave, an adobe-style structure with a festive interior that includes lacquered booth seats bearing tropical and Mexican iconography carved into them and painted with a bright-the-better aesthetic, in Johnson City, Texas, is one of those establishments.
The menu includes Mexican and Tex-Mex standards and 12 tacos, of which I selected three: carnitas, barbacoa and carne guisada with cheese, the latter based on the recommendation of our waitress. Continue reading
Filed under Reviews, Texas
Late last month I spent a week in Central Florida, in a mid-size town along I-4, just east of Tampa. I was there with my wife and son to visit family and kick back for vacation. I did little beyond play with my nephews and niece, chat with my aunts, my parents, my sisters and my 89-year-old grandmother. There was more than enough beer from Cigar City Brewing, out of Tampa, but not much Mexican food, never mind tacos.
The region where my parents live is predominantly Cuban and Puerto Rican. So, Cuban sandwiches, lechon and arroz con gandules were usually within a tortilla’s throw. Mexican food, the type beyond leaden, cumin power-punched Tex-Mex, has only begun to show up in small pockets in the last decade. Inland, luck plays a large role in securing noshes in corn tortillas. In Tampa lovers of comida from South of the Border have it a bit easier. The most famous is the Taco Bus. Another example is Acapulco Mexican Grocery & Taqueria. The five-year-old market and restaurant near MacDill Air Force Base is adjacent to Armenia where a collection of Mexican business have sprung up, was recommended by a local food writer as the one taqueria to hit in Tampa if there was no time for any others. And tucked behind shelves stocking Mexican and Caribbean market needs—everything from chile morita and piñatas to habichuelas roja and plantain chips and so much Goya!—Acapulco is fantastic. Continue reading
New upmarket taco operations, whether a truck or a brick-and-mortar concern, give me pause. Are the owners only in the business because they like tacos and see them as an easy entry into the food industry? You know, because a taco is anything you want it to be? Such is the case of the now defunct 333’s Gourmet Taco Shop. Charging up to $12 for a sloppy product on Kroger tortillas was never sustainable long-term. Or are they driven by something more? Flatlanders Taco Co., a lonchera wrapped in a mod Dia de los Muertos shell, is an example of the latter.
Inspired by their time living in Colorado and years of traveling and studying in Mexico, Texans Ashley and Tyler Hall returned home to offer tacos influenced by Tyler’s lifelong intimacy with Mexican food in the United States. “For me, I grew up eating tacos and tamales. Mexican food has always been a two or three night a week meal in my family,” he says. “My first homemade authentic meal, menudo, was while working as a dishwasher when I was 13. That was my introduction to a flavor profile that has always got me looking for the best homestyle Mexican cooking wherever I am. When I met my wife 7 years ago, the obsession doubled with her love for it as well. Now it’s almost every meal. Everywhere we travel, we try to find an off-the-beaten-path Mexican grocer, restaurant, stand or truck to get our fix, always taking note of our favorite and unique sauces, salsas and taco combinations.” The result, Tyler says, is an effort to create specialty tacos while staying within the bounds of tradition. And it’s promising. Continue reading